Camping Under the Stars
While I've camped in the western
AFFORDABLE, FLEXIBLE TRAVEL
One of the great things about a camping vacation is the relative flexibility it affords the traveler.
At popular parks you may need to make reservations in advance, but at others, it's possible to turn up at a ranger station and secure a campsite on the spot. You can also pack up and head home if the weather isn't cooperating.
Moreover, camping trips tend to be quite inexpensive. Prices vary depending on where you're camping, how long you're staying
and how many people are camping with you, but overall, park fees are very reasonable -- starting at about
Finally, a few nights in a tent teaches you to slow down, relax and pay more attention to the world around you. Add to that the fact that you're bringing only what you need (see Packing List), and that your activities probably involve a bike, a kayak or a pair of boots, and now you've got a green holiday.
Trip Types and Duration
First-Timers: Car Camping
Generally speaking, my advice for first-time campers is easily summarized: Keep it short and keep it simple. Pick a nice weekend for an overnight outing, select a campground with showers and tap water, bring some healthy snack foods, and then rely on restaurants near trailheads for your main meals. This is car camping at its most convenient.
Lots of people find that car camping suits them well, and this type of escape can be extended with minimal effort -- especially during shoulder seasons, the industry term for the months between the high and low seasons. Want to see another part of the park you're visiting? Just throw your stuff in the car and drive to another campsite. Need supplies? Head to a nearby grocery store. Tempted to stay one more night? Stroll to the ranger station and ask if your spot's booked the following day.
SEASONED CAMPERS: BACKCOUNTRY OR OUTFITTER TREK
If you're ready for or in need of a longer camping trip -- be it one week, two or even more -- you'll probably want to upgrade from your standard gear, plan more carefully and really scrutinize your trusty packing list. Next, obtain any necessary backcountry permits, speak with a ranger on duty to learn more about trail conditions and go wild.
Another option is to do a bit of research and find an adventure outfitter that leads treks to a destination of interest. These companies (check out my suggestions below) will handle the nitty-gritty pre-trip details and provide meals, tents and other basic supplies.
A final word of caution: Observe all posted warnings, and always pay attention to the local terrain and climate / weather before loading up your trunk or booking with an outfitter.
OUTFITTERS AND ONLINE RESOURCES
Backpacker Web Tutorials
Before setting out on your woodsy weekend, consult
Top Camping Travel Companies
Earlier this year, National Geographic Adventure rated the best travel companies on Earth, arriving at a list of 200 outfitters that lead a wide range of trips around the world. Its online directory is a great resource for people who want a guided experience and don't know where to start. Adventure.nationalgeographic.com
Started in 1938,
After a couple of weekend trips and a longer expedition or two, most people will know what type of camper they are ... or aren't. By that point you may have honed your s'mores recipe, too. (Homemade marshmallows anyone?)
The following list represents my top spots around the country, chosen for both scenic variety and geographical distribution.
[Read Great National Parks]
Located about halfway up
It's unfortunate that the Garden State gets a bad rap -- numerous parks and recreation areas throughout
Surrounded by the
Millions of people visit
Recent Vacation Ideas & Travel Destinations
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World's Fare Cindy Ross
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Debbie K. Hardin
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(c) 2009 Ben Keene
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